Spotlight on Sustainability: Sustainable development plan brings new life to Augusta, GA

15th St., August, GA.
Community meetings helped inform this rendering for proposed improvements along August, GA’s 15th Street corridor, including landscaped median, bike lanes, and tree-lined sidewalks. Image via the Augusta Sustainable Development Implementation Program.

Augusta, GA, is reinvesting in its downtown and a 4.5 mile corridor along 15th Street, thanks in part to a 2010 Community Challenge grant from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Downtown Augusta today is home to many empty storefronts and vacant houses, starting at an empty shopping mall in the Rocky Creek neighborhood and running along Deans Bridge Road up to 15th Street in Cherry Tree. The Augusta Sustainable Development Implementation Program is working to transform these struggling neighborhoods and spur economic development in Augusta’s downtown. The Program focuses on four areas along the corridor: Rocky Creek, Southgate, Oates Creek and Cherry Tree. Each community has unique needs, and concept plans have been developed for each neighborhood through input from community residents.

“By far the biggest challenge and also the project’s biggest goal was to engage the community and to provide transparency throughout the planning process,” says John Paul Stout, Sustainable Development Manager for the City of Augusta, which runs the Program. “It was extremely important to let the area’s current residents know that the intention was to make their community stronger and not to embellish projects that would never come to fruition. Now, community members are excited to see the project move forward.”

As part of this work the Planning Commission organized community town hall meetings to keep residents informed on the progress of the project and to collect their input. “Over 1,000 individuals weighed in with their opinions on topics such as transportation, zoning, action plans, land acquisition, and visual preferences,” says Stout.

A vision for the future
The Planning Commission took a careful look at the public comments submitted during the town hall meetings, and developed a plan for revitalizing the corridor.

The plan lays out a vision for a multi-modal transportation corridor with mixed-income development within walking distance to basic amenities.

“Through public input, we found out that residents actually wanted farmers markets, grocery stores, restaurants, access to healthy food choices, and aesthetically pleasing landscapes along the corridor,” says Stout. A large portion of Augusta’s residents live more than a mile from the nearest grocery store and doesn’t drive a car, so public transportation and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure were critical components included in the design process.

Redeveloping the abandoned Regency Mall into a mixed-use village center with both jobs and housing options is a key part of the project. The area will include basic community services within a short walking distance and existing public housing will be transformed into mixed-income housing inclusive of senior citizens.

The project will expand transportation options for residents. A busy bus transfer station located near a K-Mart shopping center will be reconstructed with restrooms, a ticket booth, a plaza, covered shelter, wireless internet connection and seating. Busy thoroughfares will also be transformed into more pedestrian friendly commercial centers by widening sidewalks, providing protected bike lanes, building raised landscape medians, improving road markings and adding additional signage.

And finally the project will also make Augusta’s downtown more aesthetically pleasing by redesigning street grids, promoting infill development, encouraging architectural variety that reflects the city’s historic character. Promoting public art and opening up new parks and green space that will be inclusive of playgrounds, community gardens, and recreational facilities are also part of this component of the plan.

Moving forward
As the project moves forward into the implementation phase it will get funding in part from the Augusta region’s Transportation Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOT), an additional 1% sales tax over a 10-year period that directly finances transportation infrastructure improvements. Funds from the T-SPLOST program are distributed in three-year “bands,” with the next band occurring from 2016-2019 when the 15th Street corridor project will begin construction.

In an effort to continue to assist current residents along the corridor even after the planning process has ended, additional federal dollars left over from the grant were awarded back to the City of Augusta’s Shiloh Comprehensive Community Center, which, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office, will work to serve residents impacted by the 15th Street corridor project. Residents are able to use the Community Center for job training, job searches, financial planning, and relocation assistance.

“The programs of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities have made substantial impacts in being able to actually get out into the community and to change the views of residents on local government and its ability to make impactful changes,” says Stout, “These grants have given the people a voice.”

Augusta Sustainable Development Implementation Plan’s HUD Community Challenge Grant is part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration between HUD, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Partnership has allocated more than $400 million in over 200 communities across the country. The Partnership works with communities to crate more housing and transportation choices, and support neighborhoods’ sustained vibrancy by attracting new business. Funding for critical programs such as the Partnership for Sustainable Communities is under threat of being defunded by congress through the appropriations process.

If you support the Partnership and programs that improve local economies and environments then ask Congress to fund these programs today.